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On the Effects of Starch Breakdown vs.

Banana Skin Color in Variable Climate Settings

Kalvin Foo

Dept. of Biology, TCNJ

Dr. Kress

September 9, 2009
Abstract:

This lab is centered around the observation of banana cell behavior in terms of stored
starch in respect to banana color, and the effect of different temperatures on the process.
Incorporated in the lab were light microscopy and staining techniques, which allowed for better
visibility of starch granules within banana cells. The lab determined that, over time, bananas
break down starch granules, and that colder temperatures impede on this process. Correlating to
this, bananas changed colors as starch concentrations decreased, so color change was also slowed
significantly by a cold setup.

Introduction:

Bananas, a fruit, are made to store excess plant starch and aid in the dispersion of seeds.

However, as it is detached from the banana plant, the fruit begins to break down starch into

fructose and simpler sugars. This conversion coincides with the change in the banana peel

changing from green to dark brown, and also the softening of the flesh inside. On a cellular level,

banana cells are closely clumped in the flesh and the only visible organelle is the cell wall.

Otherwise, starch granules are a large portion of visible substances within the cell (fig 1). This

lab evaluates the extent of starch occupation in individual banana cells as the skin color

progresses. Equally important, the effect of different temperatures is observed on the progression

of the banana skin color, with one setup at 30 degrees Celsius and the other at 4 degrees. The

practical application of this lab is to determine why fruit growers should store their bananas in

the refrigerator.

This lab was highly focused on light microscopy as it required the approximation of

starch occupation in a cell, which needs to be observed on a cellular level. Staining was also used

in order to increase starch visibility. As the setup required two temperature setups, a set of

bananas were stored between a 30o C incubator and a 4o C refrigerator. Banana colors were
determined off of the 30o C, because these were considered the control with bananas aging at

room temperature.

Materials and Methods:

Bananas were chosen in pairs from the same date for observation in order to maintain

correlation between data sets. Slides were prepared with a drop of Lugol’s solution, and the

effect was the staining of starch granules a dark purple color. The final observation was made at

400x with brightfield optics. Once a suitable observation area was chosen, the percentage of

starch occupation was approximated in 30 cells. This process was repeated for green, yellow-

green, yellow, yellow-brown, and brown/black bananas at 30o C and their 4o C counterparts.

Microscopy and slide preparation was performed as per the Lab manual (Lovett and Shevlin,

2006).

Results:

After observation of all five colored bananas and their cold setup counterparts, it was

determined that the more mature a banana was, the greater extent of starch degradation had

happened. Another effect of starch degradation was the loss of firmness in banana flesh. This

was noted in a trend of decreasing average starch concentrations by color, as seen from the

difference from green: 96.6% to yellow: 48.25 to brown: 3.9% in the 30o C setup (fig 2).

However, the cold setup resulted in bananas that did not progress beyond yellow-green,

regardless of their warm setup counterpart’s color. This was reflected in starch concentrations, as

the averages from green to brown were 97.6%, 71.9%, 71.4%, 59.4%, and 57.7% (fig 2), with

the latter four being significantly higher than their warm counterparts. The first one was not
because the bananas were fresh, meaning that the temperature differences had not had enough

time to affect the starch degradation.

Discussion:

Results in this lab point to two distinct conclusions. The first is that as a banana, when no

longer connected to the plant, will begin to break down starch and the skin will begin to change

color as well as the flesh becoming softer. Next, at lower temperatures, this maturation process is

slowed down significantly, as starch concentration, skin color, and texture is preserved better.

This is best explained by the banana’s slowed metabolic functions at a lower rate due to lower

temperature, thus significantly slowing the breakdown of starch granules in banana cells. Thus,

fruit growers should store their bananas in cold temperature, and then consumers can allow

bananas to ripen on their own instead of receiving brown bananas.


Starch Granule

Cell Wall

Fig 1. Example of green-skinned banana cell. Starch cells fill the majority of the volume in the
cell because not enough time has elapsed for them to be processed.
Fig 2. Bar graph of average starch content in banana cells as per banana skin color. Green
bananas may have intersecting error lines but that is because they did not spend enough time in
different treatments.